Upcoming EdSource symposium to tackle state education reform

April 16, 2013

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Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond is the keynote speaker at the EdSource symposium on May 4.

Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond is the keynote speaker at the EdSource symposium.

As California embarks on a slate of reforms that could drastically change the face of public education, an upcoming symposium sponsored by EdSource will help the public and policymakers make sense of the complex issues facing educators.

The May 4 symposium brings together a diverse group of experts to discuss the key issues facing California, from implementation of a set of uniform lesson plans called Common Core, to the governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula for schools and the debate over standardized testing. The discussion comes against the backdrop of Proposition 30, the school funding initiative voters approved in November that will raise about $6 billion annually for public schools.

“It’s an optimistic time,” Larry Picus, vice dean and professor at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California and an EdSource board member, said of Proposition 30, which will be the topic of a presentation at the symposium. The initiative’s passage, however, raises the question: “How do we change the way we use those resources?”

EdSource, in partnership with the California State PTA, is bringing together prominent researchers, educators, policymakers, analysts and advocates to share their ideas on what California needs to do to move the reform agenda forward. Speakers include U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, who will discuss how career and college readiness fit into the new Common Core standards, and Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who will deliver the keynote address.

Panels will also address the top issues in education reform, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, which would change the way schools are funded for the first time in decades. The plan calls for providing a base amount of funding for every K-12 student, with additional money going to schools based on how many English learners and low-income students they have.

As EdSource Today reported earlier this month, a newly released spreadsheet from the state Department of Finance lets districts see how they’ll fare under the proposed funding system. No districts would get less money than they currently receive, but some will get much more than others and that has some legislators and advocates concerned.

The governor’s proposal is flawed because it sets up schools as winners and losers, argues Robert Miyashiro, vice president of School Services of California, a Sacramento-based company that provides financial consulting and advocacy for school districts, and one of the speakers on the panel about the governor’s plan.

“All people think that matters is whether you have free-and-reduced lunch and English language learners. I’m a winner if I have these students and I’m a loser if I don’t,” Miyashiro said. “That sets up a bit of an ugly dynamic.”

Miyashiro also criticized the plan for rolling all education funding – deficit reduction, cost of living, enrollment, equalization, funding for needy students – into one number that doesn’t allow for a public discussion of the policy issues behind that number.

The big questions that need to be discussed, he said, are what is the base amount for each student, what programs and services are included in it, and is it enough?

“It comes down to this debate over whether we are funding the core group of services sufficiently and are we providing enough beyond that to meet the needs of the kids who need more help?” said Miyashiro, who will be joined on the panel by California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Liz Guillen, legislative director of Public Advocates, a law firm specializing in education equity issues, will also speak on the panel about the funding formula. Public Advocates supports the intent of the governor’s plan to distribute state education funds based on student needs.

“The fact that some districts have for decades received more funding per student than other districts with similar student populations is one of the underlying problems with our school finance system,” Guillen said. “There’s no excuse for delaying achieving equity.”

Also crucial to improving California’s educational standing in the country is what path the state takes in implementing the Common Core standards and developing new assessments that effectively and meaningfully test what students learn and how well they’re being taught.

“If the goal of California is, as it should be, to graduate students who are prepared to thrive in college or in demanding career training programs, then it needs to design its assessment and accountability systems with that goal in mind,” said Richard Lee Colvin, author of the new book “Tilting at Windmills: School Reform, San Diego, and America’s Race to Renew Public Education.”

Colvin, who will be speaking on a panel on student and school performance, said the focus has to move away from simply assessing for the sake of gathering test scores and “develop an assessment system focused on what matters for student success: creativity, communications, conceptual understanding and the ability and inclination to apply knowledge and skills in a variety of situations.”

That comes down to good teaching and teacher preparation. In addition to delivering the keynote address, Darling-Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, will participate in a panel focused on achieving high-quality teachers.

As Picus notes, that ought to be the essence of all these discussions on school reform. “At the end of the day, it really comes down to making sure we have good teachers in all schools.”

The symposium, called Transforming Public Education, is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 4 at the San Jose Convention Center. Registration is $48.

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